My First Supra

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 5, 2010 by Paul Knettel

It was 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon. I was exhausted after a long day of teaching English at school. I was reading quitely in my room, when I hear a knock on my door. “Paul. Paul,” my host brother Vasiko mumbles through the door.

“Yes?” I answer getting up to open the door.

“We go to Mzia house,” he continues. “Supra.”

And so a few minutes later, the two of us walked two houses down to where Mzia, my school’s headmaster, lives. Upon arrival I sat down under an awning along with the rest of the men, who sat and talked and chain-smoked their cigarettes. Nearby was a wooden “firehouse”, in which a cauldron of ghomi, Georgian cornmeal, cooked over a blazing flame. At the cheerful insistence of Rosa, the art teacher from my school, I helped stir the ghomi for a minute. She then proceeded to tell everyone I knew about this occurence for the next couple of days.

I found out in some broken half-English, half-Georgian communication that the supra was being held in honor of Mzia’s father, who died 40 days earlier. Apparently this is a traditional event in Georgia. And so we all made the trek to the nearby cemetery to visit Mzia’s family plot. The graveyard was quite different than what is typical in the States: instead of neat rows of headstones and well trimmed grass, here were about two dozen family plots, each fenced in separately, each a different shape and size, some raised up on marble platforms, some shaded in by awnings, some well looked after and others overgrown and unkempt. At Mzia’s plot, all the men went one by one up to the graves, where we first each poured a glass of wine into the dirt of the grave, next to flowers and photos and Orthodox icons, then circled back around and each drank a glass in memory of the deceased. There was also a little table of food, bread and khatchapuri, and we were expected to eat a small amount after drinking the wine.

After everyone had finished we returned to Mzia’s house. There all the men lined up to wash their hands, in wine, and then we walked into a smoke-filled room where all the food was laid out on a table. There we each poured another small glass of wine into a bowl in which a piece of bread soaked, the meaning of which was never made clear to me, as well as putting bits of incense rocks into a little tin pail from which the smoke was issuing, which we did to bless the food.

Finally, a few minutes later, we all filed upstairs, to a large outdoor balcony on which stood two long tables, overflowing with the food that had been transferred from the smoky room. The men all sat at one table, while the women took their places at the second. The immediate family, including Mzia and her sons and a few other people, helped serve even more food onto our tables, as well as continually refilling the wine jugs which were placed at intervals along the smorgasbord.

Dishes included:

-Satsivi: a cold dish of fish in a sort of thick walnut sauce

-Ghomi: (yes, the same one I helped stir earlier)

-Khatchapuri: the pervasive Georgian cheese-bread

-Kuchmachi: chopped, seasoned and simmered offal, AKA intestines. Yikes.

-Khortsi: quite tasty beef cutlets served with a mixture of spices

…along with watermelon, salad, cake and probably more which I have forgotten to mention.

Oh and of course the wine. Homemade Georgian wine. Always accompanied by a toast, generally made by the tamada, Georgian for “toastmaster”, the one person who is the leader, proposer and speaker of the majority of the toasts for the supra. Other people made toasts as well, most of which were about the deceased, in memory of him, in honor of his family, his friends, and so on. The toasts, although indecipherable to me, were lengthy and seemed to be heartfelt, a serious affair.

It was everything I expected, and yet somehow indescribable. It’s not something you can really prepare for. A supra is a feast, a celebration, an important reminder of the complexity and insanity of life, combated only by a flexible spirit and an empty stomach. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

The Life and Times of Georgian Public School

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 21, 2010 by Paul Knettel

So first of all let me apologize that there aren’t pictures on this post. The internet access I have here is rather slow and I’m unable to insert pictures. But good news is there will be links to photos spread throughout the post, which you may click on for your viewing pleasure. For example, HERE is a picture I took of some of the fields and mountains surrounding Zeda Etseri.

Alright, now story time.

I have started actually teaching students at the school in my village. The school has approximately 160 students from 1st-12th grade. The first day was quite an experience. Let me tell you about it:

Ok first of all there were huge thunderstorms the two nights before school began, and it was still coming down the morning of the first day, so my host dad drove me, Vasiko (my 10 year old host brother), Fatima (my host mother) and another entire family of 4 (two parents and two children) to school. For those of you who didn’t add up those numbers, that’s 8 people crammed into one little Mercedes.

Vasiko and I piled out at the school, while the rest were going to the preschool (where Fatima is the headmaster). After running into the building, we went up to the second floor, where in the main hallway all the students, teachers and many parents were gathering.

After a few minutes, the headmaster of the school, Mzia, gave a speech, in Georgian, which I think was just basically a “Welcome back to another year at school!” kind of thing.

Then, the 1st grade students, who were entering the school for the first time, were introduced, and some even spoke little poems they had learned into the microphone. Some were very shy and refused to speak at all.

Next, I was introduced by Mzia, then was asked to make an impromptu speech. I did, in English, and when I finished received a roaring applause, despite no one having any clue what I had said.

Up next in the assembly lineup was a performance by 4 of the students, who come from a neighboring region called Svaneti, which contains some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world, I’ve been told many times. My teachers are trying to plan a trip to take me there soon, which would be awesome! But these students were displaying another thing that Svaneti, and all of Georgia, takes great pride in: their traditional music. HERE is a link to part of their performance (it’s on Facebook so you might have to be my friend on Facebook to view it; I’m not sure).

Lastly, the students sang their national anthem (picture HERE) with great aplomb. Mzia then dismissed the students to their classes, and everyone dispersed. However, a few of the first graders (the youngest students in the school), along with the oldest teacher in the school went out to the front yard, where it had stopped raining, to raise the Georgian flag together, a school tradition (picture HERE).

After I watched that heart-warming process, it was off to the classroom. Most of my classes these first few days have just been constant questioning by the students, in a mixture of English and Georgian, and they want to know everything: where I live, if I have a house, if I have a big house, if I have a car, what kind of car, all about my family, my favorite music, musicians, actors, actresses, films, cars, sports, sports teams, and on and on and on…

But it’s been fairly enjoyable. The kids are very excited I’m there, they are always running up to me and saying “Hello!” or “Hi!” and waving and smiling and giggling or running shyly away. I have been playing basketball and football (soccer) with some of the older students during breaks almost everyday, with a large crowd of younger students standing around watching and cheering us on. And most of them seem pretty excited to learn English, especially in the younger grades. Which in turn makes me excited to teach them!

Ok just one more thing, because this post is getting lengthy: last Friday after school my friend Tom, another English teacher from Newcastle, England, and I went with his host family to the Inguri Dam, about a 20-30 minute drive away from Zugdidi. HERE‘s a picture of it: it is the highest standing dam in the world; the picture doesn’t really do it justice. But it was amazing to see, and it is just where the mountains begin, so the scenery was wonderful as well.

Alright, that’s where I’ll leave you for now. More updates soon. Feel free to talk to me via email if you have any questions or comments or just want to say hey: pknettelATgmailDOTcom (AT=@, DOT=. to avoid spam-bots)

A Few Words About Tbilisi

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 13, 2010 by Paul Knettel

It’s been a long time since I last updated you, in words, on my life in Georgia. One of the most exciting thing that’s happened recently was a trip to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. It is definitely the largest, most modern city in the country; it has a metro system and a majority of its inhabitants speak at least basic English.

So first, to account for the trip from Zugdidi to Tbilisi. Our group of about 12 English teachers based in Zugdidi and the surrounding villages took a night train, a 8-hour boiling trip with frequent stops, while we roasted in the stuffy sleeper cars, using sleep aids (generic brand Tylenol PM) to help make the ride a little easier.

We left Zugdidi at 11pm and arrived at the Tbilisi station at 7am the next morning. We took the metro, down the huge, steep escalator into the deep, dimly-lit but overall clean and safe depths.

After dropping off our bags at the hostel, we wandered into the city, still groggy from the sleep medications that hadn’t fully worn off yet. After some tasty khatchapuri for breakfast from a streetside bakery, we started our adventure in the city.

Some highlights include: eating less than appealing pizza with mayonnaise (an apparent standard in Georgia) and much more tasty kinkhali in a basement restaurant; visiting the Tsaminda Sameba cathedral, the head of the Georgian Orthodox church; having a pint of Guinness in an “authentic” Irish pub; and swimming in the Tbilisi Zea, a reservoir northwest of the city with numbingly-cold water, pairs of Georgian men in paddle boats and a drunk man who washed his shoes in the water, sang under his breath and creeped on three 20-something Georgian sunbathers. Also, drinking wine from a khantsi, a Georgian drinking horn; and viewing the city lights at night from the Narikala Fortress up on a hillside above the city.

And then there was the train ride home. Originally meant to leave at 9am and arrive back in Zugdidi at 5pm, another 8 hour journey. However, it turned into an 11.5 hour trip when the train made a 2 hour stop off in the middle of nowhere because of an electricity outage, the best we could figure out in our broken inter-language communication.

All in all though, a really fun weekend. Hopefully I’ll be back again.

Everything You Need

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 12, 2010 by Paul Knettel

Hello friends!

Time for a quick update!

Mostly in picture form. But also if you would like some more information on the program I am participating in here, this article explains things very well:

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/61895

Black Sea Coast at Anakhlia

Mv Village, Zeda Etseri

Dadiani Palace in Zugdidi

Group of English teachers at a fortress near Rukhi

At the Abkhazian Border

Tbilisi, the Capital of Georgia

The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Tbilisi

Tbilisi at Night

Yes, Harry Potter is universal

Images and Words

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 31, 2010 by Paul Knettel

 

Above you can see the view from my balcony outside my Georgian host home. Yes those are grapes on that vine.

I am enjoying my time here immensely. The Georgian family is wonderful and way too hospitable! I have been able to meet up with some of the other English teachers in my area (whom I trained with in Kutaisi for 1 week), and we have gone to the Black Sea for a breath-taking sunset and an invigorating swim! We also played some football (soccer for us strange American-folk) against a group of Georgians, which was a blast despite the scorching heat: so much for a cooler environment than Texas!

Of course, the Georgian wine is uibquitous and typically delicious (although there is one strange breed of wine that tastes of vinegar which I’m not so much a fan of), along with plentiful helpings of Georgian food: cheese and bread, and cheese bread (khatchapuri), eggplants and beans and stews and this tasty spicy walnut paste, also meat dumplings (known as kinkhali) and the Georgian version of ketchup, which is spicier and quite nice.

Above is my room in the host home. I’ll let the picture do the talking on how nice it is.

Also, hopefully at some point soon I will be able to get a picture of my entire host family, but until then here is the 10-year old son, Vasiko, complete with the Texas flag I brought the family as a gift (along with a picture book of San Antonio).

They are very interested in my home and my family, and my car and friends and just about everything! A bit overwhelming at times, especially with the language barrier, but overall they are just amazingly friendly and caring and absolutely great.

Oh one last thing. Yesterday I went to the school in my village (Zeda Etseri) where I will be teaching English for a year. I met a majority of the teachers in the school, all of whom are women except me! There are two Georgian English teachers, Nona, who is 56, and Tamuna, who is 27 and actually lives in a different village and has to take a marshutka (minivans that serves as main method of public transportation in Georgian) to school every day or, when the marshutka does not come (which happens occasionally-it is not the most reliable transportation system) she has to walk the 4km to the school!

Ok for now I’ll leave you with one last view of the Georgian mountains as seen from my host home:

Life in Village Zeda Etseri

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 26, 2010 by Paul Knettel

So I have successfully transitioned into living with my host family.
They are:
Fatima, the mother
Gigla, the father
Vasiko, the 10-year old son
Shalva, the 20-year old son who goes to univeristy in Tbilisi but is home for summer
Gvansa, Shalva’s wife
Darejani, Gvansa’s mother

And, and they are wonderful. Georgian hospitality lives up to its reputation. I am constantly being told to eat, eat eat (or, in Georgian, chame! chame! chame!).

The house very nice, although it is being renovated right now so things are a little crazy.

I wish I could show you pictures, but the family does not have internet at their house, so right now I am typing this from a cafe in Zugdidi. Hopefully the school I will be teaching at (which I saw yesterday!) will have internet access, otherwise my blog posts will probably be far and few betweeen.

Today, the family is taking me with them to the market, which should be an interesting and fun experience.
And then later on today we are going to the Black Sea coast for some sunbathing and swimming!

Yesterday, the power went out in our house (a relatively common occurence in Georgia, I believe), so last night was quaint and candlelit.

If you have any specific questions please comment and ask me and I will try to answer to the best of my ability!

Oh, and I am enjoying every minute of this, in case you wanted to know.

That’s all for now!

Can You See?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 18, 2010 by Paul Knettel

Early morning layover in Amsterdam

View of Georgian Mountains from the plane to Tbilisi

Our hotel in Tbilisi

Traditional Georgian architecture in Tbilisi

A centuries old method of transportation still employed in Georgia

Our bus from Tbilisi to Batumi

The President of Georgia speaking to our group in Batumi

Sunset Black Sea coast in Batumi

Remnants of Soviet architecture are prevalent

More Soviet architecture, visible from our training facility in Kutaisi